There’s no escaping your surroundings. Formed in 2010, Seven Impale have slowly but steadily become one of the most talked about young bands in the prog world, with a sound that deftly blends an exhilarating blur of mutant jazz rock with thunderous, dark grooves that exhibit a subtle but unmistakable debt to the underground metal scene that continues to thrive in the band’s home city of Bergen, Norway.
“I played in a thrash metal band from the age of 16, but during that time I started playing more fusion and jazz stuff,” recalls singer and guitarist Stian Økland. “Guys like [noted jazz guitarist] John Scofield, they were very important for developing my guitar style, but also bands from Bergen, like Enslaved, have been really important for investigating the more vivid landscapes that metal actually can bring to your music.
“A lot of bands have been mentioned as our source of inspiration, but the one we always go back to is [Norwegian art rock legends] Jaga Jazzist, and that’s true for every member of the band. It’s the mixture of all our inspirations that brings us into the prog world.”
“I guess it was just a coincidence that none of us went into the metal scene,” adds drummer Fredrik Mekki Widerøe. “We all got into the jazz rock scene, which is mainly based in Oslo. Bergen is more the metal capital of Norway. So add that enthusiasm for the jazzy stuff to an upbringing with parents listening to Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, and we end up playing Norwegian jazz rock mixed with that 70s heavy metal vibe.”
Informed observers may well be able to detect the odd nod towards Van der Graaf Generator or King Crimson in Seven Impale’s explosive, sax-embellished freakouts, but there’s no denying that this band have already developed a sound that stands apart from pretty much everything else that’s happening in prog right now. The follow-up to 2014’s debut full‑length City Of The Sun, new album Contrapasso is a darker and more aggressive record than its florid, euphoric predecessor, but the band’s wide-eyed exuberance remains intact throughout, even if the message contained within these nine strange songs is laced with a very modern sense of dismay.
“The word ‘contrapasso’ is hard to translate directly,” says Widerøe, “but it comes from Dante’s Inferno. His representation of Hell consists of punishment derived from the things you’re being punished for. It’s like divine revenge.”
“The idea behind the album grows out of the story from City Of The Sun,” says Økland. “At the end of that album, you see this ideal state of mind, this Utopian state, crumble down to nothing, and that’s where we are on Contrapasso. It’s the dark side of City Of The Sun. The hope that still exists on the last album is now in a state of languor and apathy, and I think a lot of people can relate to that right now.”
Looking on the brighter side, Seven Impale make music that manages to be both prog and progressive, and their burgeoning reputation as an extraordinary live act will surely make them a difficult band to ignore over the next few years. It might not be possible to reinvent the wheel, but Contrapasso suggests that these eager Norwegians are going to give it a damn good try.
“Art rock or prog rock, it’s a really big genre,” Økland concludes. “We belong there because we’re not heavy enough to be a pure metal band and we’re not sufficiently trained as jazz musicians to be called a jazz band, and I think that’s fine! We love the prog fans. They’re so devoted to the whole thing and to giving music like this a chance. They really cherish the music and that means a lot to bands like us.”
Stian Økland (vocals/guitar), Fredrik Mekki Widerøe (drums), Erlend Vottvik Olsen (guitar), Tormod Fosso (bass), Benjamin Mekki Widerøe (saxophone), Håkon Vinje (keyboards)
Rampaging jazz-fuelled prog rock with lashings of menace and squawking sax
Contrapasso is out now via Karisma
See the band’s Facebook page for more